Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cargo Cults -belief in the imminence of a new age of blessing, to be initiated by the arrival of a special ''cargo'' of goods from supernatural source

A cargo cult is any of a group of religious movements that occurred in Melanesia, in the Southwestern Pacific. The Cargo Cults believed that manufactured western goods ('cargo') were created by ancestral spirits and intended for Melanesian people. White people, however, had unfairly gained control of these objects. Cargo cults thus focused on purifying their communities of what they perceived as 'white' influences by conducting rituals similar to the white behavior they had observed, presuming that this activity would make cargo come. A characteristic feature of Cargo Cults is the belief that spiritual agents will at some future time give much valuable cargo, and desirable manufactured products to the cult members.

Cargo cults have been recorded since the 19th century, but have been continuously growing since World War II. The cult participants generally do not fully understand the significance of manufacturing or commerce. They have limited purchasing authority. Their understanding of western society, religion, and economics may be rudimentary. These cults are a response to the resulting confusion and insecurity. They rationalize their situation by the reference to religious and magical symbols they associate with Christianity and modern western society. Across cultural differences and large geographic areas, there have been instances of the movements independently organizing.

The most famous examples of Cargo Cult behavior are the airstrips, airports, and radios made out of coconuts and straw. The cult members built them in the belief that the structures would attract transport planes full of cargo. Believers stage "drills" and "marches" with twigs for rifles and military-style insignia and "USA" painted on their bodies to make them look like soldiers.

Today, most historians and anthropologists argue that the term 'Cargo Cult' is a misnomer that describes a variety of phenomena. However, the idea has captured the imagination of many people in developed nations, and the term continues to be used today. For this reason, and possibly many others, the cults have been labelled millennialist, in the sense of a utopian future brought about by a messiah.

A similar cult, the dance of the spirits, arose from contact between Native Americans and the Anglo-American civilization in late 19th century. The Paiute prophet Wovoka preached that by dancing in a certain fashion, the ancestors would come back on railways and a new earth would cover the white people.

A religion described as a "cargo cult" developed during the Vietnam War among some of the Hmong people of Southeast Asia. The core of their beliefs was that the second coming of Jesus Christ was imminent, only this time he would arrive wearing camouflage fatigues driving a military jeep to come and take them away to the promised land. The origins are unknown, but one can surmise that it was assembled out of the images of new power apparent to them in that time period, in the form of the American military and of western Christian missionaries.

A more recent example of a mythological worldview misinterpreting scientific practices occurred in Africa, where an aid organization, focusing on slowing and stabilizing population growth, distributed abaci with red and white beads corresponding to a woman's menstrual cycle. Women were instructed to move one bead a day, only having intercourse on days represented by a white bead. However, the experiment failed, and the population grew in the households using the abacus. The women believed the abaci were magical, and that they would be protected from pregnancy by moving a white bead into the place of the red bead before intercourse.

Some Amazonian Indians have carved wood mockups of cassette players (gabarora from Portuguese gravadora or Spanish grabadora) that they use to communicate with spirits.

LINK: Wikipedia: Cargo Cults

LINK: Air Force Magazine Online: Cargo Cults


LINK: Cargo Cults photojournal - look at the photos and read carefully. These people are inventing their own religion using their own superstitious beliefs and adding christianity to it, which is what christianity did when it was first formed. People make their own gods for whatever needs and reasons they might benefit themselves. For most people, the main desire is immortality.


MichaelBains said...

The cult participants generally do not fully understand the significance of manufacturing or commerce. They have limited purchasing authority.

Huh.. Sounds just like a lot of Americans. Except in this country, we've got Credit to abuse as "purchasing authority."

'Tis, indeed, a small world after all, eh.

Gonna send a link to this post to a blogger named Jay. His blog is The Chiliasm Chronicles and he writes about this sort of thing alot.

MindGames said...

Godless Wonder had interesting post about the John Frum Cargo cult
last month.

Stardust said...

michealbains and mindgames - thanks for the great links! I read Godless Wonder all the did I miss this one!

Tommykey said...

I read the John Frum article in Smithsonian magazine while I was waiting to be seen by my doctor. I was so interested by the article, I ended up buying that issue from the newsstand.

What particularly interested me was how quickly the adherents of the John Frum Cargo Cult came to believe in the existence of a man who clearly never existed. It provides a clear cut example to christians who argue that Jesus must have existed and that he could not have been invented.

I must admit that I am still on the fence as to whether Jesus of the NT was a real person or not, but even if he was real, I know that he was not the son of the Creator of the Universe.

freethoughtmom said...

wow, I wonder if this is where frank herbert got his idea for the Missionaria Protectiva...

vjack said...

Thanks for the outstanding post. I've been fascinated with the whole cargo cult phenomenon since I first read about it. It never ceases to amaze me how many people can laugh at their absurdity while not realizing that Christianity is no different.